David Sturzaker as Lucullus, James Clyde as Sempronius, Kathryn Hunter as Timon and Imogen Slaughter as Lucia. Pictures: Simon Annand 

Timon of Athens

The Royal Shakepeare Company

The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon


Timon of Athens is not the most regularly performed of Shakespeare's plays, but its themes of loyalty and friendship hold core values that still speak to us today.

The production at the Swan, directed by Simon Godwin, gives light to a new way of thinking about Shakespeare’s play. With a story about loyalty and trust, Timon is a generous millionaire hosting lavish parties and constantly gifting those close to her as they attend her side.

The fast paced and luxurious lifestyle is halted when Timon is advised of her debts and the amount of money she has to pay. Naturally, Timon believes that the people she deems closest and the ones she so generously looked after will repay the favour, until they say no.

Confused and shocked by the revelation that she cannot rely upon the people she absolutely thought that she could, she takes herself away into the woods, where a tragic end begins to unfold.

In this production, the traditionally male lead,Timon, is played by Kathryn Hunter, who is as awesome away from the stage as she is upon it. She is an associate of RADA and the first female to play King Lear in 2003 at the Globe. Hunter gives a sparkling performance of the generously tragic character. Hunter has a mighty voice and strength where her body is a vessel for emotional power.

She displays her range beautifully, being the driving force to bring the play, and the character to a tragic end. Hunter always remains enticing, being the life and soul of the party in the first acts, we see her inviting guests to lavish parties. In an intensely empathetic journey, we also see her as the lonely woman living in the woods.

timon and flavius

Patrick Drury as Flavius and Kathryn Hunter as Timon

Her voice and general presence are fantastic, moving us to feel exceptionally sorry for her when she loses everything. Hunter takes total command of her role, and it an absolute joy to see her upon the journey. The rest of the cast are also superb, making up the illustrious world of Timon’s luxurious lifestyle. Patrick Drury as Flavious gives a charming performance as the only character with true loyalty, advising Timon of her debts and giving a passionate homage at the tragic end.

The empathy and sorrow we feel for Timon is heightened within this production, as the juxtaposing themes within each half are strikingly different. The first interval is a party, where audience members are dragged on stage to dance with the cast in an upbeat preset. Soutra Gilmour’s set is spectacular, where Timon’s dwelling is drenched in gold. Even the costumes of the cast allude to an exuberance of excess and merriness.

The first half finishes in an elaborate party, however with Timon’s knowledge that her closet friends will not support her when debts need to be paid, the opulent parties that everyone is used to ends with a gruesome visual surprise.

The second half is dark, both in visualisation and emotion, where we see Timon mostly in the middle of woodland. Her long gold dress and elaborate hairstyle is suddenly turned into a ragged cloak dirty with mud.  

It is interesting to note the parallels between this play and King Lear. An interesting coincidence is that Hunter has now played both Timon and Lear. When Timon is cast out into the woods to live her solitary life, we see no madness as such as we do with Lear, but a complete loss of a lifestyle and close connections. Her humble fall is compounded by the fact that the audience are made to be aware that those she asked for help from, did indeed have the capacity to lend it, however they chose not to.

Due to Godwin’s interesting concept, Timon of Athens could be one of Shakespeare’s most relating plays to our society today. The production holds no suggestion to a particular era or place, and Gilmour’s design is clever to note that her dazzling colours and materials can be placed in any period.

There are many layers that add to the fact that this story reaches out to us today more, in the fact that materialism and need seems to be rising in society, and that political loyalty is almost nonexistent. Godwin intertwines the political uneasiness we see and feel today in parallel within the world of the play. The rebels against the city of Athens present passionate scenes of protest with a fight for justice, led by Alcibiades, played brilliantly by Debbie Korley.

The brilliant cast go hand in hand with Godwin’s modern way of thinking. They blend into a production which gives light to a range of emotions and modern similarities. Hunter’s exceptional talent of playing Timon means that we take the journey with her. She has the ability to touch our soul. The cast are passionate story tellers which brings Shakespeare’s universal themes to the helm of what we deem as important values in society today. To 22-02-19

Elizabeth Halpin


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